Well the Major League Baseball regular season is about to get underway. Normally, I would only cover the AL-E being that’s the division I used to know the most about, but as my circle of Philly friends as grown and the Mets have come and gone and are still trying to come again as being local competitors it has forced me into being a spy on the NL-E as well. Suffice it to say, although it probably sounds cliche to call them backwards, as my fellow blogger Bobby will tell you, I’ve called his Phils in the NL-E two years running, even when he bet against me. Does that make me a prophet? No, it just means I really am kicking myself at being excited for a Philly team regardless of whom the competitor they are facing is in proximity to my own likes… sorry Bobby, you know it’s true though.
In honor of this, I’ll start with the NL-E in this pre-season preview. Overall, in the National League, there is no clear cut winner for the wild car. In some ways, there aren’t even clear cut winners for the potential Division winners. But, there’s a good a chance as any the WC would be from the NL-E and I think there’s a dark horse in the running for it… The pressure is on Philly to repeat, a feat that is rarely ever accomplished, but considering the way the rest of the NL-E is built it should provide enough dramatics to keep both those still skeptical Phils fans sitting on their hands at the edge of their seats as well as keep the NY Post printing witty headlines about the Mets. But the real story lines to watch will come down south this season and that’s what will make things interesting enough to keep up with their AL counterparts, maybe for a little while.
In the AL-E the three way race between the BoSox, Yanks and Rays will intensify this season. All eyes are on the high roller, big spender, new acropolis Yanks, and their expectation to both succeed and fail simultaneously. Given the nearly decades worth of money-burning there’s always going to be that spectre of failure and glimmer for the league that the evil empire is entombed by it’s own making, a strong AL that was designed for one purpose only, just like it was in the 80s, to destroy the Yanks. Then again, believe what you will, but don’t let that fool you, there isn’t a cocky redstocking wearing Bostonian who isn’t just slightly jittery at the parallels between the late 70s and late 90s incarnation of the Yanks and this newly refurbished troupe. The pressure isn’t off them to earn another championship any more than it is for the Rays to prove they weren’t a one hit wonder. That being said, the Wild Card should once again come out of the East with ease and a story line enough to throw the papers that are still printing come September into a tizzy.
BoSox .660, #1 AL-E
I usually keep my I’s out of these, but I have to say, I bleed Yankee pinstripes and I’m calling the Sox yet again over the Bombers. Lester-Beckett-Matsuzaka is easily the best 1-2-3 to be had with the possibility of a resurgent Penny-Wakefield-Smoltz to round out the 4-5 and a couple of young arms to bounce between AAA that includes Buckholtz and the other killer Bs and the majors and there’s more depth than the unfathomable realm of Verne in that staff. If Okajima finds the zone, with Papelbon that’s scary back end to a deep pen. For fielding, there aren’t many holes, so long as you believe that Drew, Baldelli, Bay is a healthy rotation for the corner OF and Youkilis, Lowe is a healthy corner IF. There is no denying the ability for those guys to hit and if they can get back the prowess of Varitek and Ortiz it’s an order that is both powerful and pesky. There might be a lot of potential misses, but of all the hits possibly it is hard to believe their depth isn’t going to overcome any injury agony they might come by.
New York Yankess .600, #2 AL-E, AL-WC
The last two times the Yankees got a new stadium, they brought home a World Series to go with it. The last few times the beast the Bronx rose from a drought they into started dynasties. With the off-season Steinbrenner spending spree one can’t help but wonder. The current rotation of Sabathia, Wang, Burnett, Pettite, Chamberlain goes nicely hard righty, soft lefty, hard righty, soft lefty, hard righty. The question are, is CC going to still be the work horse, will Wang be fully recovered from his injury, will AJ stay healthy for an ace-like season, how much gas does Pettite really have in the tank and is Chamberlain really cut out to be a starter? That’s a pretty deep set of questions considering the only reliable arm in the pen is the ageless Rivera and they’ve only the limited experience (and questionably injured) Phil Hughes to lean on in the short term. The hitting could be improved if you believe that the acquisition of Nady last season and Tiexeria in the off-season would compliment the return of the achy-brakey Posada and Matsui and help defy the test of time on Damon and Jeter. They should have scored 900+ the last few seasons (or, teetered on 1000) but didn’t, what is to believe this would be any different? But, this all should be enough to pull up the boot straps as Girardi has no other choice but to win, or retire.
Philadelphia Phillies – .565, #1 NL-E
The Phils return with essentially the same winning combination that led them to two consecutive come-from-behind wins of the NL-E and last season’s World Series. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it… especially, if no one else significantly improved their chances of catching you. Madson-Lidge is a convincing 1-2 punch out of the bullpen that will be tough to match (no how much money you threw at trying to) and the rest of the pen is balanced, especially when Romero returns. If Hammels is healthy the Phils can ride him again to victory with a decent and experienced 2-4 backed up by grandpa Moyer. The #5 slot is questionably filled by Park, that is, until his arm finally dies and Happ is ready to graduate to the bigs… In the field, how can you argue with Utley-JRoll-Howard, though, one has to wonder about Utley’s health and Howards streaky nature (and dastardly strikeout habit) in the lineup, they present a powerful lineup, one of the most brutal hitting forces in the NL.
Tampa Bay Rays .555, #3 AL-E
Those new look Rays aren’t so no look any more and they’ve a lot to prove going into this season. They might have the AL’s best and brightest players in Longoria and Navarro but can they ride the post-season worked arms of Kazmir, Shields and Garza again deep into the year? Couple that with Percival and Isringhausen who can still have flashes of brilliance when then aren’t coupled to the disabled list and the longevity of arms are to be considered. Can they win with this outfit? Sure, those are some great arms if they all perform. Considering how Percival was sub’ed for last season and they proved they can do it… Especially if Crawford continues to be a veteran spark plug and Burrell can provide an extra pop of power in the DH role. Will they win with this? Sure, if the entire lineup can be as slap happy as they were last year in keeping the other pitching staffs on their toes for a full 100 games against AL pitching.
Florida Marlins, .535, #2 NL-E, contenders for the NL-WC
The Fish are the going to surface. It might be going against both common knowledge (the Mets) and belief (the Braves) in picking the fins for second, but there’s something there. Something underestimated and under-anticipated that will ruffle more than a few feathers in the NL. The starting three of Nolassco, Johnson and Volstad have the potential to be supremely dominate if they come into their own, and if Sanchez can stay healthy and on the mound that can help solidify the back end. The spring training errors are disconcerting, but they are fielding a staff that is poised after the “fire sale” to prove something to the world. Ramirez-Cantu-Uggla can push the envelop in the middle of the order and they are a quick group slick and slippery guys playing if for no other reason than they have as many WS victories as their storied rivals in Philly and New York in way less than half the time.
New York Mets .520, #3 NL-E
The Mets made attempts at stepping up the gap in wins from last season to this one, but the question is will those “upgrades” actually result in the extra 30 wins they need to overcome, or will they slide a few more down. There’s no arguing at the potential of Putz-kRod at the back of the pen, but can they get to them? There aren’t a lot of middle relief arms to look at right now that say yes. With only Santana as a sure thing in the rotation as an innings eater and proven winner that leaves gaping questions. Will Pelfry, Maine and Perez pull together strong 12-15 win seasons or will one, two, or all three struggle just to make double digits once again. And, the rotating lump of a #5 starter is hardly sorted out and the season is already started. The lineup features Wright as the only dependable hitter. Will Sheff be able to hit in a platoon situation, or off the bench, or rather, will it even more adversely affect Church? How will Delgado recover from last years slump and Beltran and Reyes perform after in-and-out performances the last season, and how does Castillo slot into that #8 slot these days. And, maybe moreso, how many of these guys will need segues to field their positions?
Atlanta Braves .505, #4 NL-E
Over the off-season the Braves must have felt like they were always the bridesmaid and never the bride. Nonetheless, they will make a significant improvement over the last few seasons and despite not bullying their way through the NL they will present a challenge to the league. It is a funny thing to see a starting three in Lowe, Vazquez and Glavin and then Jurrjens and Kawakami rounding out the five and of course there could be both excitement and question marks simultaneously. In the field things could go either way. There are good defensive players but there’s also age and inexperience playing against them. The lineup might not be the deepest and most dangerous but Bobby Cox can duel with the best of them and will run out every last bat at the right moment to make the impact necessary, if for no other reason, but that he has to.
Baltimore Orioles .480, #4 AL-E
The O’s are a mis-matched-rag-tag bunch yet again this season, even with the bright spots to be had. Could they pull off a .500 season for a change? Sure. Will they? Probably not. They will languish under the mark yet again trying to find a stride inside an uber-competitive
Toronto Blue Jays .475, #5 AL-E
I almost wrote Maple Leafs here. Yes. There, I said it. Mismanaged, maligned. Talented and tainted.
Washington Nationals .340, are they even in the NL-E, wait, are they even in the MLB?
So far, the only thing the Nats got right was the W on their hat (and that was stolen from the old Sens, whom I do miss as a Washington sports fan) I am hesitant to even make a prediction here, perhaps only that, they might be the only team to contend with Pittsburgh for the worst in the league and at least Pitt has Snell and Mahlom pitching to get excited about. Washington on the other hand will be watching the O-men of the town (Ovechkin on the Caps and Obama of the Presidency) for the time being.